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Why Aren’t There More Young People in MAT Programs?

Thursday, May 17, 2018 | By Tim Powers

Opioid abuse is the leading cause of death among American youth. Statistics show that young adults aged 18-25 are the biggest abusers of opioid medications. Despite these statistics, only one quarter of teens and young adults are in medication-assisted therapy programs. The low number of young people in MAT programs is cause for great concern. Without medication-therapy programs in place, many young people struggle with long-term addiction.

Shocking Trends Regarding Young People in MAT Programs

Statistics concerning young people in MAT programs are shocking. According to an article published last year on MedPage Today, about a quarter of teens and young adults who struggle with opioid addiction were in MAT programs. Of those age 13 to 25, only 26.8% received either of these medications within 6 months of their diagnosis. For younger addicts aged 16 and 17, the number drops to one in ten patients. Moreover, a study published in JAMA Pediatrics , the percentage of youth receiving naltrexone or buprenorphine  increased until 2009, then has experienced a steady decline in recent years.

The research also shows that medications such as  buprenorphine and naltrexone can be offered in primary care and subspecialty settings, but only by certified clinicians who received the waiver certification — and only 1% of those are pediatricians. This information regarding young people in MAT programs was pulled by researchers who examined data from a national commercial insurance database from 2001 to 2014.

Why Are There So Few Young People in MAT Programs?

A major reason there are few young people in MAT programs centers on limited research in the effectiveness of this treatment; even though medication assisted therapy programs are being vigorously pushed by treatment professionals. In August 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement recommending the use of MAT for youth with opioid addictions. The AAP stated that medication-assisted treatment in adolescents as “underused” and “severely restricted. Additionally, the organization called upon pediatricians to offer MAT programs to their patients or to refer patients to other health professionals who may provide this service.

According to the article, Buprenorphine was approved for use in patients ages 16 years and older. The results of two randomized trials centering on use of the medication found that adolescents and young adults taking buprenorphine were more likely to continue treatment. Additionally, these patients had lower rates of opioid use. Despite these positive reports, researchers state that medications such as buprenorphine and naltrexone lacks comprehensive supports showing that it is effective in young people.

While widespread research may be lacking, professionals in the field tout MAT programs as a  viable treatment option. Michael Weaver, MD, of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston stated the following:

“The time to act is now to take advantage of these medications that can have a profound impact of the lives of adolescents and young adults struggling with opioid addiction…The epidemic of opioid addiction in the U.S. has disproportionately affected adolescents and young adults, and multiple medications are available that can save lives.

In reference to the getting young people in MAT programs, Weaver also said the following:

These medications are not being used in a majority of programs, even though they are evidence-based and standard of care…Pediatricians can take the initiative and prescribe naltrexone to appropriate patients right away with no need for specialized training, or prescribe buprenorphine after completing an 8-hour training program available through AAP.”


Ways to Get More Young People in MAT Programs

There is an intense push to get more young people into MAT programs. Without these programs in place, young people will continue to abuse opioids as adults. It is estimated that one in three adults in treatment for opioid addiction began using opioids before age 18,. Additionally, two-thirds of adults struggling with opioid addiction started before age 25.

In order to better serve young adults, the American Academy of Pediatrics created the following three recommendations:

  1. Opioid addiction is a chronic relapsing neurologic disorder. Although rates of spontaneous recovery are low, outcomes can be improved with medication assisted treatment. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advocates for increasing resources to improve access to medication assisted treatment of opioid addicted adolescents and young adults. This recommendation includes both increasing resources for medication-assisted treatment within primary care and access to developmentally appropriate substance use disorder counseling in community settings.
  2. The AAP recommends that pediatricians consider offering medication-assisted treatment to their adolescent and young adult patients with severe opioid use disorders or discuss referrals to other providers for this service.
  3. The AAP supports further research focus on developmentally appropriate treatment of substance use disorders in adolescents and
    young adults, including primary and secondary prevention, behavioral interventions, and medication treatment.

While these recommendations are great starting points, MAT programs face ongoing stigmas for adults and especially young people. In a study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, researchers found that less than 50% of addiction treatment programs serving adolescents and adults offer patients medication for the treatment of opioid use disorders, and even among programs that do offer it, medication is significantly underutilized.

Additionally, the same study found that only 34% of opioid-dependent patients in treatment receive medication while 0% of patients with mental health disorders in these same programs received medication.  In conclusion, the study found that prevailing policies and prevailing social attitudes that serve to prevent patients from accessing a medication that can effectively treat a life-threatening condition may be harmful to adolescent health.

MAT Programs are a Key Component in Treatment for Young People

Medication-assisted therapy is a key component of a drug treatment program for young adults. It is important to remember that MAT programs for young people are not designed to be cures. Instead, these programs are used to increase the chances of long-term recovery. The most practical application for MAT programs in drug rehab is during the medical detoxification stage.

During this critical period of early recovery, young people’s’ bodies are adjusting to the absence of drugs. This results is pronounced physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms that are often unpleasant. Medications such as buprenorphine and naloxone can be used to make the withdrawal process more tolerable. Along with medication-assisted therapy, treatment staff can also evaluate patients for any co-occurring mental or physical disorders which can complicate the recovery process.

Medication-assisted therapy helps stabilize young patients and helps in the transition to intensive drug treatment. During treatment, facility staff creates an individualized treatment plan that fits each patient’s unique and specific needs. Through a combination of therapy, 12-step support and a variety of traditional and holistic interventions, patients gain the tools needed to overcome their opioid addiction. Once formal treatment is completed, newly recovering addicts can enter aftercare programs to gain further tools and support that will help them sustain their recovery for the long term.

Call Medically Assisted Treatment Today

Medication assisted therapy can be a great asset to help young people successfully recover from opioid addiction. If you are a young adult seeking help for your opioid addiction, call the professionals at Medically Assisted Treatment right now. Our experienced staff works with the best MAT programs nationwide, and we will work with you in finding the best program for your needs. Don’t let you addiction ruin your life for another day; call Medically Assisted Treatment and take back control of you life.

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